Jul 3 2014

Beach vacation is time for family, renewal

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

July 3, 2014

Blue Mountain Beach

Blue Mountain Beach

Beach vacation is time for family, renewal

As mandated by my membership in Club Memphis, I loaded up the van and drove to the panhandle of Florida for a week this summer. It’s an annual drive that can take anywhere from eight to 11 hours. This year, it was unbearably the latter.

I don’t mind most of the drive too much. For me, the vacation begins in that van. Where the kids used to complain and whine, they now sit still, (mostly) silent and mesmerized by the glow of the screen on their hand-held devices.

With the kids strapped in and unable to move about the cabin, and with my only responsibility, great as it is, to deliver them all safely to the beaches of South Walton County, it frees my mind to wander.

For 11 hours I was able to dwell within my own thoughts. Well, 10 hours. That last hour was spent thinking, “Why is this taking so long?”

As with the start of any road trip, my first thoughts turn to this: these kids are whiling away the hours watching movies on handheld devices. Do they even realize their good fortune to watch “Frozen” again and again as Alabama whisks past? Do they know that I spent hours on the road as a kid — these very same roads — wishing for just such a device?

My sisters and I dreamed of a day in the future — far in the future, the 21st century — when we might be able to watch our favorite television programs as the distance dwindled. Instead, we read books and doodled, stared out the windows and napped. And we argued, which is the one holdover of childhood from the last century to this.

But the focus of our week this summer wasn’t all electronic devices and self-absorption. Once we hit the emerald green waters and sugar white sand of Blue Mountain Beach, we gave ourselves over to relaxation and socialization. Attention turned to family as my sister, her husband and their kids arrived to join us.

A friend once said, “Man should put his feet in the sea at least once a day.” There is something healing about the water, isn’t there? It’s therapeutic, renewing.

We bobbed in those waters as a family out beyond the second sandbar, the current carrying us lazily to the east and the sun dazzling our eyes. The kids asked questions and we answered honestly and openly as our feet grazed the sandy floor below. We spoke of hopes and dreams in a way that we just aren’t able during our day-to-day lives with their schedules and demands.

This is what vacation is all about. This suspension of reality, the suspension of gravity and the time to just float in each other’s company. Those moments are worth the hectic days throughout the rest of the year. Those saltwater conversations are worth every minute of the very long drive.

I’m already looking forward to putting my feet in the sea again. I’m ready for next year and the renewal that can only be had from a long drive, quality family time, Disney films on the go, and the water.

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Jun 19 2014

Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

June 19, 2014

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

As our children grow older, they grow closer to each other. They’re more willing to get along and coexist harmoniously in the limited space of our home. It’s a wonderful feeling; it’s all that we’ve hoped for as parents from the very first days.

Still, though, they backslide. They bicker and argue over things as inconsequential as a spot on the sofa or a difference in perspective.

Memphis, too, grows and ages and, hopefully, matures. Yet even as it moves forward, becoming more progressive on issues of growth and development, we backslide. In past weeks, interest groups and Memphis Zoo leaders have been bickering over land the way my kids argue over that spot on the couch.

Other groups have become embroiled in the most inane argument of all: Who is the most minority? It’s like my children discussing which of them is my favorite (I’ll never tell). This public discussion has devolved into public name-calling, water-throwing and an arrest.

It was against this civic backdrop that we sent two of our kids, Somerset and Joshua, rising seventh- and eighth-graders respectively, to Bridges last week for the summer Bridge Builders COLLABORATE program. In a building that acts as a bridge itself — on the edge of Downtown, Uptown, the Medical District and North Memphis — 114 young people from 32 ZIP codes came together to learn how to work as one.

The issues of the day weren’t the focus, not in so many words. No one read them headlines from the newspaper or a long list of acerbic statuses and comments from Facebook. Instead, the college-age facilitators led groups of kids through exercises meant to instill confidence, leadership qualities, unity and teamwork.

My kids didn’t want to go, be sure of that. They’re preteens and only recently finished with school, so they were looking forward to long summer days spent lounging on the couch, arguing over who sits where. “Why do we have to go?” they asked up until that very morning.

“Because you’ll like it,” I said, again and again. “You’ll meet new people, it’ll build character and it will give you something to do all day.”

This was one of the few instances of my being right; they loved it from the first day. They loved the people in charge, the kids in their groups, the games and workshops, and the lunches.

I picked them up that first day and, as they described the activities, the themes of the week shined through — they worked together to complete tasks, they had to choose leaders, they had to select a workshop of their own interests to focus on throughout the week.

There was a day of community service when the kids went into the surrounding neighborhood to pick up trash. The trash wasn’t theirs, but they cleaned anyway. These future leaders will one day be cleaning our messes. Because of Bridge Builders, they’ll be better equipped and more eager to do so. They’ve learned the skills at a time when current leaders have trouble putting petty differences aside to work toward a common solution.

As Cynthia Ham, president and CEO of Bridges, said to the crowd of kids and their parents at the induction ceremony on the last day, “No matter what you end up doing, I hope you will hold sacred what you learned this week at Bridge Builders and know that you can make a difference, especially in Memphis.”

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Jun 5 2014

Tour Le Bonheur to see the heart of the city

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

June 5, 2014

Le Bonheur

Tour Le Bonheur to see the heart of the city

I spent a recent morning taking the Le Bonheur 101 Tour. My group of eight was given breakfast, lunch and guided access to the children’s hospital.

In the 40-bed emergency room, relatively quiet at 9 a.m., Dr. Barry Gilmore, medical director of emergency services, assured us that it would fill up multiple times over the course of the day. Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is the only nationally certified Level 1 Trauma Center in the state.

We were shown operating rooms with equipment costing millions. Dr. James Eubanks, medical director of trauma services, demonstrated computers so technologically advanced that I was sure we could launch a moon mission from the corner of Dunlap and Poplar.

In the cath lab, a days-old baby underwent a procedure as we looked on from a control booth where nurses monitored every action, giving feedback to the physician and his team while tapping a keyboard the way my teen does his phone.

And mixed in and among the gadgetry, the LED lights and a seemingly endless nervous system of fiber optic wire, was another complex, yet simple, piece of equipment. So important is it to the patients and their families, the doctors and nurses, that, when the new building was completed in 2010, they capped it off with its image.

It is the heart.

A big part of Le Bonheur’s philosophy on treatment of the body is the support that is offered to patients and their families; there is talking, physical and emotional interaction, and bonding.

The doctors and nurses, department heads and marketing team each took time from their day to explain to us every floor, ward and piece of equipment. They answered our questions unhurried and at length. They even took time to point out the art on the walls and explain its significance and what it means to them. There is beautiful art everywhere, made by and for children, and it appears as integral to the day-to-day functioning of the institution as an MRI or EKG.

I toured the hallways, operating rooms and waiting rooms of Le Bonheur the other day and, as thankful as I am that it’s there, I hope I never have to see it again.

At the beginning of the tour, we were asked to share our own Le Bonheur stories. A few of us had them. For me, it happened about 14 years ago when my son, then only 2 years old, stood up in his high chair at Pete & Sam’s restaurant and went over backward, landing on his head. As a parent and Memphian, when something like that happens, the first thing that comes to mind is “Le Bonheur.” He was examined and released soon after we arrived.

Other stories aren’t so simple and don’t end as quickly. We heard some of those stories during our tour, saw others being played out in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and operating rooms. It’s for those children and those parents that I’m grateful for the institution.

June 15 marks the 62nd anniversary of Le Bonheur opening its doors, and the 4th anniversary for the new facility. You’ve toured Graceland and Sun Studio, the Stax Museum and Brooks Art Gallery, and they all make Memphis the unique city it is. If you want to see what makes us great, what makes our heart beat, be sure and take the Le Bonheur 101 Tour.

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May 22 2014

Make summer a season of creativity, discovery

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

May 22, 2014



There it is, the school bell. The last one of the semester and another year is in the books. It was the first for a unified Shelby County School system, though “unified” may be an optimistic adjective.

Still, the ground didn’t open up. Hell fire didn’t rain down. Teachers taught and students learned. Parents signed papers, made lunches and purchased a tree’s worth of poster board.

Next year the municipal schools depart the mother ship for what they believe to be a better universe. Good luck to those teachers and administrators; it will be another new and unknown frontier, another testing ground.

But that seems a world away because after tomorrow it’s summertime and there is no testing. So let’s turn off the alarm clocks, pack away the uniforms and prepare for hours spent doing nothing. It’s a glorious time for lounging about, running the neighborhood, eating lunch at a normal hour and maybe staying up just a bit past bedtime. Read what you want, kids, talk loudly and at will, make up games and go fishing.

At a recent end-of-school year ceremony, White Station Middle School principal Shawn Page made a point to mention two people he admires. They aren’t titans of industry. They aren’t politicians. They aren’t celebrities, not in the contemporary sense. They are a composer and a poet — Ludwig van Beethoven and William Blake.

Mr. Page told the assembled students and parents that he admires the men for their work ethic and perseverance at creating something that comes from within.

Though he didn’t say so, art is woefully undervalued in public school systems, unified or otherwise. So this summer, let’s take a page out of the principal’s book and read up on the old masters of arts and letters. Let’s put that page down on a flat surface and spend some time painting or drawing on it. Write a story, a poem, an essay just for you. Write and direct a film on your mother’s iPhone. Noodle with that dust-covered piano or your dad’s guitar.

Indulging creativity is a pathway to learning, but don’t let that scare you away. You won’t even notice it’s happening at the time, trust me. You won’t necessarily be learning about the landscape you’re painting or scales on sheet music or metaphors and similes. The lesson you learn will be far more important.

You’ll be learning about you, who you are, what you’re capable of and where your talents lie.

There is no test at the end. Unlike the proposed Common Core Curriculum or the brain-scrubbing TCAP exam, there is no way to teach to the test of summer. It’s not a season for standardization; no good climbing tree or firefly swarm is quite so common.

The summer break from school seems shorter and shorter every year, so soak it up while you can. Don’t let the idle hours go to waste, but learn what you like simply because you want to know more about it. There is no grading, there is no standard. There is only good music and the poetry of days that stretch on and on.

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May 8 2014

Parenting is a juggling act with no end

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

May 8, 2014

Parenting is a juggling act with no end

Having been a parent for 16 years and written this column for six, I’m often asked by new parents what it’s like. “How do you handle four kids?” is most often the question I’m asked in Kroger, at the bookstore or after reading the kids’ menu aloud at dinner out for my table and those nearby.

The answer varies depending on the day, my mood and the most recent outbursts from my children. It ranges from, “It’s really great, you should try it” to “Forward momentum, we just keep swimming, like sharks” to “Please, help me.”

In many ways, each of those answers rings true because being a parent is a lot like juggling. In the beginning, it’s an impressive feat and friends and family are in awe of your abilities. Then it becomes a circus. Eventually, you realize that if you stop, hesitate, take your eye off a single ball even for a second, it could all come crashing down.

And it’s not always a tennis ball or orange you’re juggling, either. There are chain saws up in the air, and kitchen knives, and a stick with fire on one end.

Keep it all moving. Don’t stop.

Last weekend, I stood in the shade on the back deck and watched as my 16-year-old son mowed the yard. There was a breeze and it was pleasant, it was nice not having to trudge back and forth in the sun pushing that machine.

That chore was an orange lofted into the air, making its arc and landing again in the waiting palm of my hand. “This is easy,” I thought to myself.

Later that day I put that same 16-year-old behind the wheel of the car and strapped myself in the passenger seat for a ride across town. We took some narrow side streets, winding and without sidewalks. We crossed others as wide as Mendenhall, Poplar and Perkins. All around us was Memphis traffic and the sound of horns. There was one perilously close call with a mailbox.

That ride was a chain saw, ripping and roaring, tumbling end over end in front of my face. I didn’t want to catch it, I prayed that it might fall to the ground. “There’s a mailbox!” I thought to myself.

We parents can’t let anything fall to the ground. We can’t pick and choose which incarnation of our children we want to parent, whether the 6th-grader with a nearly-flawless report card or the one who later sulks off to her room once again, talking back out of the side of her mouth.

The point is that we have to stay on our toes. We have to watch our toes because that point is sharp. They’re not all softballs, these childhood dilemmas.

As a parent and showman, it’s that big finish with a flourish that I look forward to, when my kids are grown and successful and, hopefully, happy. It will be then that I’m allowed to take only the briefest of bows, quick to right myself because another secret of juggling, new parents, is that it never ends, there will always be something floating up there in the air.

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Apr 24 2014

Unlike tests, kids aren’t standardized

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 24, 2014

Misguided movement puts testing above all

As new parents, we approach the work as we would any new job. We’re eager, excited, a little awed we got the job in the first place, yet ready for any challenge. Over time, though, we get bogged down, don’t we? There is the morning routine and the constant list of needs and demands from the administrators, our children.

It’s like that with any job, but maybe none more so than teaching. Have you ever talked with someone new to the profession? It’s infectious. They’re going to change the world one student at a time with a package of Crayola crayons and a piece of chalk.

But then something happens come spring. Beginning next week, our kids will be taking the TCAP standardized test to find out where they stand among their fellow students across the state. For many teachers and administrators in the school system, this is the speed bump on the road to education. Treating our kids like data on a spreadsheet is where the process begins to break down.

Kids are nothing if not nonstandard. They are wonderfully, blessedly unique in their gifts, their approaches, their thinking and their play. But there are children in our city who are new to the country, who have yet to master the language and customs. There are those who woke up without a meal, who may have gone to bed without a parent in the house. And there are those afforded every opportunity to succeed.

To measure them all against one another is to do them an injustice. To attach such importance to those tests is to hamstring our educators.

Such is the weight of the outcome of these exams — the high percentage of the child’s overall grade and the performance evaluation of the teacher — that there is little choice but to “teach to the test.”

I’m subjected to a performance review of sorts every school day. My 7-year-old daughter will let me know in the mornings if I chose the wrong uniform top for her, and she critiques the lunch I packed at the end of every day. I laugh it off, a hazard of the job.

But what happens when it isn’t a mere glitch in the bossy personality of an adolescent and is taken more seriously? I shudder to think of someone’s job evaluation coming down to how well my daughter might grasp the difference between answer C and answer D. I shudder to think that someone might judge my performance as a parent, and whether or not I’m allowed to continue, based on the fact that her socks don’t match today.

In the next year or two, the Common Core curriculum will be adopted and, with it, a standard that is unattainable for many in a misguided effort to raise the bar across the board. It’s an initiative with the propensity to do damage to the least prepared among the schools in our system.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, in a speech last January to the Modern Language Association, said, “I fear that the Common Core plan of standards and testing will establish a test-based meritocracy that will harm our democracy by parceling out opportunity, by ranking and rating every student in relation to their test scores.”

As spring blossoms, we should hope our kids do as well, that their senses are awakened and curiosity piqued.

Not all of our children are destined be artists or industry leaders, start a technological revolution or discover the cure for a disease. But we have to want that for them; it’s our job.

And we have to hope, more than anything, that they’ll be something more than standard or common.

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Apr 10 2014

Strangers in subculture of parenthood should change that

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 10, 2014

No rule that in parents’ subculture we remain strangers

Every morning, I take my daughter to school. Every afternoon, I pick her up. And every day I see the same parents again and again. In the mornings, we’re usually tired, having gone through the 10-round struggle of getting the children up, pleading with them to eat something — anything — finding that shirt without the missing button, the socks that don’t irritate their toes, the misplaced binder.

Once we’ve made lunches and gathered up homework, that moment of dropping the kids at school feels like a mini vacation, the chance to breathe before the rigors of work, the complaints of bosses and the conundrum of where to eat lunch. We only want a few solitary minutes.

The stress shows in our faces as we arrive at and then leave the school grounds. We nod to each other, if we make eye contact at all, and might feign a smile if it isn’t raining and if we know that a still-hot cup of coffee awaits us in the car.

Despite the consistency of our muted interactions, we remain strangers in the subculture of parenthood. If we know anything about the other parents at all, it’s the name of their child and what grade he’s in, the fact that their daughter missed two days of school due to head lice or fever. All we know is what our own kids tell us.

And still we nod, we smile, we collectively roll our eyes at the challenge that is being a parent.

But Memphis is a small town in some ways and we’re bound to run into each other away from school. With no kid holding their hands, no pink and purple backpack slung over their arms at Whole Foods or messy poster board blown about as they make their way to Café Keough downtown, it’s as if seeing someone you’ve only ever seen with glasses on without them for the first time. They look a little wrong, don’t they? Maybe a bit ill.

It’s two degrees of “Don’t I know you?” We meet without a child and we have no idea who the other is or from where we know each other. We’re there, in the taproom of Wiseacre Brewing Co. or having lunch in Overton Square, and we come face to face with someone we know that we know, but can’t quite place the face or the name. It’s like as a child when you saw your father, always bearded, suddenly clean shaven. It was like a stranger in the house.

We should say hello at school. Be the first to say, “Good morning, my name is ” It only takes a minute, and we’re going to see each other for 180 days every year.

We’re all in this together, this parent subculture. It’s not the punk subculture of high school, or the jock subculture, band or drama club. This one is permanent, like it or not. It’s difficult, it’s messy and it is every single day of our lives.

So let’s stick together. That way, when we see each other out, away from the kids, we’ll recognize each other straight away and maybe we can raise a pint to toast our free time, because Monday morning comes all too quickly.

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Mar 27 2014

Dad takes on poster board lobby; next glue stick magnates

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 27, 2014

Words of scholars writ large on poster boards

It seems as though all of the homework my kids have been assigned this year requires poster board.

Has anyone else noticed this? I think you have because when we arrive at school in the mornings, I see all the other kids with their own homework. It looks like an armada of tiny clipper ships, their blue, red, black, white and yellow sails billowing and blown off course.

Social studies, science, math, history — it’s all being done up in 84-point type to fill these 28-by-44-inch boards. Some recent projects have included a report on Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, geometric shapes and book reports. One poster, inexplicably, was about commas.

Why? To negate a teacher’s failing eyesight? To encourage kids to think outside their crayon boxes?

I bring the conspiracy theories outside of the comments section and right here to blame the poster board industrial complex. Those barons of wood pulp who eschew the standard 8½-by-11 sheet of copy paper, the college-ruled and three-hole-punched notebook pages of my youth. They’ve weaseled their way into the schools, probably at the legislative level in Nashville, to ensure that all assignments everywhere require an enormous, difficult-to-carry stock of lightweight cardboard.

It’s the controversial move over to common foam core curriculum in our public education system.

Perhaps this column should be completed and submitted to my editor on a poster board. I’ll type parts in varying fonts, print it, cut it all out and paste it on the slick side of a piece of poster. I’ll make notes on index cards and glue them on as well. I will utilize a vast array of Magic Markers.

I don’t normally do my work on poster board because I’m an adult and it would be a silly way to complete an assignment. I probably haven’t created a poster in nearly 30 years.

In an increasingly digital world, these assignments appear downright analog with their scribbled-out mistakes, torn edges and curled corners. Hasn’t everything moved to PowerPoint presentations? Aren’t they the poster boards of the future?

I don’t recall Steve Jobs, in his theatrical releases of new hardware and software, ever gesturing toward a poster he made in his dining room the night before the presentation was due. There is no iPosterboard. Is there? Jobs would have seemed a relic of the past; he would have appeared to have caught Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

As our world shrinks — global industries and networks a click away, communication devices held in the palm of our hand — my kids’ homework is getting larger. It’s taking up vast resources of paper, poster, glue, scissors, tape, crayons and time. It’s not a 19th century slate, but neither is it a 21st century smart board.

It is tactile, I’ll give educators that. It’s hands-on. For many of us, I think we’ll agree, it’s the parents’ hands all over it. It’s a scramble to get these projects completed and in some sort of presentable order. For some it’s hassle; for others it’s a nostalgic turn to youth when a poster was the best means to reach a lot of people about civil rights or anti-war sentiments. Now, though, it’s all math equations and Oxford commas.

OK, this rant is over. I have to run up to the Walgreen’s for more supplies if I’m going to finish this column — poster board, index cards, construction paper, glitter … don’t even get me started on the glue stick cartel.

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Mar 12 2014

Myriad choices send dad home empty-handed

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 13, 2014

Myriad Choices send dad home empty-handed

Given the choice of grocery shopping or working, I’m lying on the couch right now with a legal pad and pencil, coffee by my side, and writing this column.

In the meantime, my wife is being faced with choices — paste or gel toothpaste, shampoo for body or curls or dryness, the small, medium or large jar of peanut butter, and round-top vs. whatever that other kind of bread is.

All of the choices make me crazy and indecisive, which is why I’m on the couch. It’s also why I’m given only limited access to Kroger. I can stand in front of 20 linear feet of lunch meat for a half-hour and leave empty-handed.

America is the land of choice. In this country, you can choose to be a surgeon or a house painter, a musician or CPA, Muslim or Catholic, live on the West Coast or East, write in cursive or print. The grocery store is like a tiny democracy with its myriad options and possibilities from the land of milk and butter, to the shores of poultry and pasta.

It is overwhelming. And more than our founding fathers, such choice is a testament to those who have chosen marketing as a profession. Ever since hometown hero Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly at 79 Jefferson in Downtown, putting the product at the fingertips of the customers, marketing geniuses have scrambled to help us choose which bottle of ketchup is better than the next (hint: They’re exactly the same inside; the only difference is which end you rest the bottle on — top or bottom).

When my kids were babies and up all night afflicted with mucous and fever, I would invariably be sent on a midnight errand to Walgreens for something liquid and pink and age-appropriate. I would invariably forget exactly what it was I’d been sent to retrieve. Those were long evenings spent reading the backs of bottles and boxes for anything that would trigger my memory.

I would return home with something purple and highly narcotic. Inundated with options, I’d chosen poorly. My wife and baby displeased with my choice, I spent the rest of those nights in a hazy fog of sleep brought on by whatever pediatric elixir I’d bought.

Could there be that much difference between this toothpaste and that? This bottle of shampoo with guava and that one with avocado? Probably not.

I have a brother-in-law who once refused to shop at a certain store because they carried only three types of grits. That’s not so far-fetched, though. One of the reasons we choose to live in the South is for its variety of grits.

It isn’t even limited to what goes into or on our bodies. Bathroom cleaners offer the same array of variances. Scrubbing bubbles or foam? Blue or clear? Pine scent or no scent at all? It makes no sense to me.

Packaging, pennies and peer pressure are what drives us at the store. I find the options silly most times, frustrating at others, yet it beats the alternative.

In Memphis these days, on any given weekend, we have a choice of sporting events, outdoor festivals, music shows and places to gather. These are options unavailable decades ago. Even if those choices confuse and confound, and I end up lying on this couch all weekend because I just can’t make up my mind, it’s nice that those choices exist.

And you really can’t go wrong with a Grizzlies or Tigers game, with dinner at Local Gastropub or Tsunami, a stroll around the Memphis Zoo or the Memphis Botanic Garden. The wrong choice there doesn’t carry the same weight as, say, a gel toothpaste when your wife specifically said paste.

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Feb 27 2014

Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 27, 2014

Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

In my youth, I harbored dreams of sailing the world. It’s a dream that didn’t end with the birth of my first child when other responsibilities become so much more immediate. It didn’t sink with the birth of my second or third, nor when my fourth came aboard.

From the relative safety of landlocked Memphis, I was able to let my sails fill with the far-fetched idea that I, and my crew of four, would someday visit the sandy beaches and protected bays of Portugal, Fiji, the Maldives or any number of Caribbean islands.

The only alteration in my plan over the years involved the increasing size of the imagined boat. Not by much — a foot here, a foot there. One more berth, an extra life jacket.

Never mind the fact that I don’t sail. Not in practice, anyway. In theory, in my imagination, I’m setting a course by the North Star, cutting my jib and trimming my sails. But it’s a dream, and dreams are rarely practical.

Yet recently, pragmatism became the very anchor to stall the S.S. Imagination. We moved to a new house. It wasn’t a move to the blue water of Antigua or even onto a 42-foot sloop. It wasn’t three time zones, but a mere three streets away. And yet, despite such a short jaunt, the physical means necessary to move this family of six half a mile might have taken an armada.

We have too much stuff.

Like so many in today’s society, we consume, and we keep, and casting off what is unnecessary becomes unthinkable. We cleared out closets and then moved on to cabinets. We scavenged under beds and in the attic, rifled desk drawers and tackled whole rooms. We found Davy Jones’ locker, a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum.

The idea of ever paring down our lives enough to fit it all on a single boat became laughable. A wicked pirate sort of laugh that devolved into a salty sob carried away on the wind with my dreams.

The act of clearing out what we didn’t want or no longer used was cathartic. The Salvation Army and Goodwill received boatloads of goods that will hopefully be put to better use. But it felt like deck chairs thrown from the Titanic.

We have way too much stuff.

Amidst our mess, though, we did uncover some buried treasure: photo albums, childhood toys that had provided my children with security, art projects made by tiny hands and mementos gone missing. These things are the lifelines of parenthood, the flotation devices to help buoy us when the seas of parenthood become rocky and threatening. These were good omens, our red skies at night.

The new house is slowly becoming shipshape. While it may not move at 20 knots, boxes are still being unpacked and stowed, the purge is ongoing, and the S.S. Hoarder is floating lighter than before. With all hands on deck, we’re weighing anchor and setting a course for the island chain of Less-Is-More.

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